Rabbi's Weekly D'Var
February 27th ~ 18 Adar 5784
Dear Congregational Family,
Last week’s Parsha Teruma goes into a meticulously detailed, lengthy description of how the Israelites are to build a Mishkan. What is a Mishkan?. The Mishkan is a place which may accommodate the spiriitual presence of God, the Shechinah, within a real materially bounded space into which ordinary Israelites with the right mind can come to feel a connection to Hashem. The Mishkan would be constructed so as to be set up and taken down as the people traveled for the coming forty years through the desert.
Did the Israelites at this stage need a Mishkan to approach the Shechinah? This brings up an interesting dilemma of interpretations. Where did this Mishkan , being taught to Moshe fit into the goal of bringing the Israelites to Canaan , to knock out idolatry, follow God’s way and become “a holy nation of priests”? Sforno’s opinion is that no temple was needed since all the Israelites after the Revelation were worthy to have the Shechina rest upon him. Ramban’s opinion is that the Mishkan was planned even before the 10 Commandments to be constructed now, as a sort of normal necessity for God’s people. The Torah text states simply ”Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Rashi and others say that these plans for the Mishkan were actually transmitted after the Golden Calf episode but are given here right after Mishpatim because the later Tabernacle and Sanhedrin, seats of religious ritual and civil law ,are related. The Ten Commandments make clear the theologic basis for Jewish civil law. The Torah does not necessarily follow chronological sequence but, rather, follows thematic links. Another thematic link will come later in VaYekalel after the Golden Calf episode. So this parsha Terumah is not in chronologic sequence., according to Rashi.
What is the role of the Mishkan in the development of the people Israel?
The parsha Ki Sisa presents the completely unexpected catastrophe of the Golden Calf. Moshe is on the mountain top for 40 days and nights. Then God gives Moshe the two tablets of testimony (Edot ), tablets of stone written with the finger of God. Meanwhile, the people, down below, by 40 days thought that something had happened to Moshe , so they gathered around Aaron saying to him: “Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us because this man Moshe who brought us up from Egypt —we do not know what became of him.” Aaron had them, “Remove the rings of gold in the ears of your wives, sons and daughters and bring them to him.” Aaron took the gold rings, bound them up in a cloth, and fashioned it into a molten calf. The people said “This is your god O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Aaron saw and built an altar before him and called out “ A festival for Hashem tomorrow.” The people arose early in the morning, offered up elevation offerings and peace offerings; then sat down to eat and drink, then stood up to revel (l’tzachate: make merry and have a good time).
Now, in the first commandment in Yitro, God tells them that they should have no gods nor images of any possible sort before him; that He is a jealous God (kanah, jealous) and He will visit the guilt of the parents on 3rd and 4th generations. Ramban points out that nowhere in Torah does God express that He is kanah (envious) except in regard to idolatry of Israelites. Recall that text states the people with one voice called out :We do and obey”. How can we imagine that the Israelites can so quickly and readily give up on the first commandment?
The people had been given no sense of direct consequences upon themselves in relation to these commandments, other than that the parents’ behavior will influence the next generations. The Israelites may have heard the commandment and said we will obey and listen, but did they understand what that really meant about their behavior and faithfulness to Hashem and their leader Moshe? And did they know what it meant to the outcomes both for themselves , their children and for the future of their nationhood?
Further, did Moshe himself really understand before this episode what the faithfulness or lack thereof of the people for God’s words would mean to his own outcome?
First, what happens to Moshe? God tells Moshe to run down the mountain because ‘your people that you brought up from Egypt have become corrupt and have rapidly left the pathway that I commanded them.’
Question: Why is God telling Moshe that it is his people whom he Moshe had brought out of Egypt? Could this be a test for Moshe to assume responsibility and to lead the people under his own initiative? One could imagine that God seeks to transfer responsibility to human leaders. The text does not say that God is envious nor wrathful, despite the 1st commandment. Instead God tells Moshe ‘let me alone that My wrath may wax hot against them and may consume them and I will make you a great nation’ Rashi’s interpretation: Here, it seems that God is opening a path for Moshe to plead for mercy, which Moshe does. Moshe implores God “…to His face why let your wrath wax hot against thy people”? And the Torah states that “God relented from the evil (punishment) that He spoke of doing”. This may be an example of Hashem’s compassion both for the people and for Moshe.
So, Moshe turns and with the tablets in his hands he descends the mountain, encounters the people singing and dancing in their revelry. And Moshe sees the golden calf. Moses’ anger “waxes hot (Va Yichar Af)” ( note Hashem had relented from hot anger), hurls the tablets of the covenant ,breaking the tablets at the foot of the mountain. Moshe takes the gold calf, burns it in fire, grinds it into fine powder, which he strews in the water and makes the Israelites drink of it.
Now, Moshe who had implored God to relent from His planned punishment takes the job of punishment upon himself.and calls “All who are for God, come here to me.” All the sons of Levi rallied to him. Moshe tells them “ Each of you put your sword on your thigh. And go to and fro through the camp and kill each one marked as an idolator, whether brother, neighbor or kin.” The Levites did as bidden and about 3 thousand fell that day.
Moshe returns to the Lord and says “The people have sinned a great sin and made a god of gold. Now, if you forgive their sin [well and good] and if not, blot me out of Your book that You have written.”, Moshe, though a leader, is feeling himself a part of the group, while recognizing their guilt and, importantly, is feeling empathic with them.
So, if a test, did Moshe pass the leadership test? So it seems.
God tells Moshe:”Whoever has sinned against me, I will erase from my book. Now, you go , lead the people to the place where I told you; behold, My angel shall go before you.
Another question: Have the people yet demonstrated their understanding of what is required for faithfulness to God’s path? Not yet. God says further to Moshe: “Go from here, you and the people you brought up from Egypt unto the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I will send an angel before you…. But I will not go up in your midst because you are a stiffnecked people , lest I destroy you in the way.” When the people heard this harsh news, they mourned and no one put on their finery.
For the next forty days, Moshe would meet with Hashem in the Meeting Tent which was placed outside of the camp so that God would not have to be in the midst of the camp [there was no Mishkan yet]. The people would see Moshe going to the tent and would stand up, presumably, in awe and respect. Therein Hashem was teaching Moshe the whole Torah. And God told Moshe to carve 2 tablets of stone on which He would write the words that were on the first tablets and ascend the mountain. On the mountain, Moshe prayed to the Lord :” if I have found favor in your eyes, O Lord, I pray You go in the midst of us, even though [per Ramban interpretation] it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.” By this time, it appears that the “stiffneckedness”
Is not considered rejection of God’s way , and God said “I hereby make a covenant before all your people ……to make wonders such as have not been wrought…[Ramban interpretation :allusion to the dwelling of the Shechina among them in the Mishkan.]
Now, In the very next parsha, Va-Yak’hel, all of the instructions described in Terumah as to how to build the Mishkan are repeated in detail now in Va-Yak’hel, But, here, the instructions are to actually build the Mishkan according to the plans described in Terumah.
What do we learn from the sandwich of this episode of the Golden Calf between the 2 parshiot Terumah and Va-Yak-hel?
One of our well-loved leaders in our synagogue community, Albert Madansky, z”l: asked this question. Why couldn’t the Torah text in Va-Yak’hel have simply said, “And the children of Israel built the sanctuary, exactly as was delineated in Terumah?” Why does the Torah repeat all the details? What is different?
Al Madansky (z’l) pointed out in his drasha of several years ago that the parallel structure in language between the parsha Terumah first describing the plan for the Mishkan before the golden calf and the language and instructions again in Va-Yak’hel describing the building after the golden calf implies a progression of the people between the two parshiot. What is the progression?
As Albert wrote , “….. the setting of Sedra Va-Yak’hel, parallels that of the setting of the golden calf [in Parsha Terumah], with one difference, the goal.
“What was the relationship that God wanted before the golden calf when he instructed the Israelites to build the sanctuary? To dwell in your midst. What was the goal after the Sanctuary was built? Once more God is in their midst.” I would say in my own words that the Ribono Shel Olam (I mean Creator of the Universe not Multiverse) marked in the people a progression from seeing only themselves and their own perceptions to an awareness that there is more to the universe and reality than what they see only around themselves in the moment.
Albert continued “So you see that we needed this repeat of the material from Terumah, not for the detail but for the nuances. It is to show that, upon actually doing what God had instructed pre the Golden Calf, the Israelites relationship with God reverted back to that which it was at Sinai, prior to the Golden Calf. The repetition of all the details for the building of the Mishkan is to bring home to the Israelites that they were back to their state of obedience”
Dr. George Siegel
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